As I wrote yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to find that even though the watering system broke while we were on holiday, most of the plants survived a summer week or two without water. I’m putting this down to the success of some of the droughtproofing techniques I’ve used – strategies to allow me to have a green, productive and cool space with half or even a quarter of the water that people might otherwise spend. This post is a quick listing of the things I’ve been doing.
Zone 2 is all pot plants, it’s a toddler-friendly kids garden. You can’t water pot plants longer and deeper to build up their drought tolerance because their roots have nowhere to go. And they will feel the heat through the sides of pots so light and heat are extra threats to them. But, you can
- choose heat-tolerant plants (my turmeric and ginger loved the summer warmth),
- make sure plants have been recently repotted so that there is earth insulating all their roots before a predicted dry time,
- cluster pots together to protect their sides from direct heat and light,
- use the clustering to give plants microclimates of shade and water that suit them (e.g. geraniums protecting wetter herbs)
- put pots in water catching containers so that water that runs out of pots isn’t just lost to the ground (a big plastic box kept some of my mints alive).
Zone 3A is the vegie beds, which I’d like to have permanently watered with a rainwater-fed under-mulch drip system. Which I will install one day, when I have all the beds in place and have put in rainwater tanks. I’d also love to have wicking beds, but haven’t gathered up the hard work to change them over given how much of the entire garden needs reconstruction. In the meantime, they are just vegie beds. What I did:
- fill the beds with good healthy water-holding soil
- choose heat tolerant plants (the sweet potato loves this weather!)
- choose plants that are not trying to crop or hold fruit during heatwave season (my blueberries finished well before we left)
- use the plants to protect eachother (the sweet potato vines are rampant, covering and cooling more than half of the space)
- install shade (my shadecloth rig is only temporary and didn’t stay up well in our absence, but it was able to stop some of the scorching)
- mulch well
- and, the most controversial, don’t plant. I deliberately didn’t put in a lot of the summer seedlings I might have otherwise, so that was a big drop in productivity for me, but we weren’t going to be here to harvest them anyway so it didn’t matter as much. Not having as many plants to keep alive meant the watering system was a lot easier to set up. Next year I will think about whether to plan January as a fallow time again.
Zone 3B is ornamentals and herbs, things that will grow under the shade of ornamental and tree-crop trees. Its destiny is to become a greywater area, with water from the washing machine and/or the shower coming out automatically so that there’s water a couple of times a week depending on household usage. It will eventually include some of the tree-crop plants such as the passionfruit vine, a tree tomato, maybe an avocado tree. Most of the techniques I used in zone 3A apply here too – the basil and fennel are heat tolerant and survived well, the parsley and tomatoes were done for the season so were ready to die off anyhow, the soil has been well conditioned and well mulched. I’ve also picked drought-tolerant plants such as salvias to fill in the ornamental beds, but I’ll have to think about changing that when the greywater system actually goes in, as those beds will be more regularly watered at that point.